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Clinton book describes Canadian glimpse of perils of climate change

WASHINGTON - Hillary Clinton's new book describes how a trip to Canada opened her eyes to the potential ravages of climate change.

The past — and potentially future — U.S. presidential front-runner describes a striking experience while visiting the Canadian territories and Alaska a few years ago.

"Hard Choices," released today, describes Clinton's years as secretary of state.

She cites the 2005 trip to Alaska and Whitehorse, N.W.T., to explain the urgency she later felt to achieve a global climate deal when she was in the administration.

Travelling with three Republican senators, including John McCain, to meet with scientists, First Nations and local leaders, Clinton says she was struck by what she saw out the window while flying over the Yukon.

She describes seeing tracts of dead spruce trees, the result of beetles having been driven north by milder temperatures, and distant evidence of forest fires that officials said were happening more frequently.

"Virtually everyone I spoke to on that trip had a personal wake-up call about what was happening," she writes.

"A tribal elder recounted how he had returned to a lake where he had fished as a boy only to find it dried up. I met lifelong participants in dogsled races who told me they no longer even needed to wear gloves."

The autobiography, Clinton's second, comes just days after President Barack Obama unveiled aggressive new climate-change measures aimed at U.S. coal-fired electricity.

It describes how she and the boss barged into a secret meeting at the 2009 Copenhagen climate-change conference involving emissaries from China, India, Brazil and South Africa.

After exchanging a mischievous look, the pair marched right in, past frantic Chinese officials. Obama shouted, "Mr. Premier!" to get the attention of Wen Jiabao and other stunned leaders sitting in the room.

That tense encounter helped break the old Kyoto accord divisions, where only developed economies had agreed to curb emissions, she writes.

In that same chapter, Clinton echoes an argument made this week by Prime Minister Stephen Harper: countries are generally unwilling to sacrifice prosperity to attain climate goals. She describes the process as herding cats.

But she warns against casting the environment and the economy as an either-or choice, citing the expansion of natural gas in the U.S. as one example of how greenhouse gases can shrink and the economy can grow at the same time.

"When the economy is hurting and people are looking for jobs, many other concerns fade into the background," Clinton writes. "And the old false choice between promoting the economy and protecting the environment surfaces once again."

Clinton mentions Canada only in passing. She lauds Canada's participation in NATO and other international initiatives, and notes Canada and Mexico account for 40 per cent of all U.S. exports.

She quotes Harper saying that to "defend national sovereignty" in the Arctic, Canada needs forces on the ground, ships in the sea and proper surveillance. But more ships, more drilling and more military forces in the region would only accelerate environmental damage, she writes.

The Canadian Press

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